dmattwads

Mahayana vs Theravada

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2 minutes ago, Apech said:

Shakyamuni Buddha didn't write anything - he lived in a pre-literate society.  Everything is based on an oral tradition prior to about 300 BC.

 

Yes. And we have Ananda to thank for most of what was passed down allegedly :) 

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7 minutes ago, anshino23 said:

 

Yes. And we have Ananda to thank for most of what was passed down allegedly :) 

 

 

Luckily he had total recall!

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Hey Apech. I know Buddha didn't write down his teachings but I thought that was on account of him not wanting his teaching to be merely studied as opposed to practiced... At least that was Thich Nhat Hanh's account of history. If I remember I thought some people wanted Shakyamuni to write down his teachings in Sanskrit. But either way you are correct, I meant I don't personally believe the Mahayana sutras such as the lotus sutra or the Maha PariNirvana sutra were actually spoken by the buddha but I don't think it invalidates the potential truths in those sutras

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2 hours ago, TranquilTurmoil said:

Hey Apech. I know Buddha didn't write down his teachings but I thought that was on account of him not wanting his teaching to be merely studied as opposed to practiced... At least that was Thich Nhat Hanh's account of history. If I remember I thought some people wanted Shakyamuni to write down his teachings in Sanskrit. But either way you are correct, I meant I don't personally believe the Mahayana sutras such as the lotus sutra or the Maha PariNirvana sutra were actually spoken by the buddha but I don't think it invalidates the potential truths in those sutras

 

Hi,

 

Nothing was written until the first century BC - and the Buddha died about 400 BC (dates vary).  Buddha probably spoke a Prakrit which is a language variant of Sanskrit - most probably Magadha B which is one variant ... and probably close to Pali.  Sanskrit in the classical form was the language of the Vedas used in Brahminic ceremony.  The Buddha discourage the use of Sanskrit in his time - I think because of this special status it had and he didn't want his teachings to be confused with Vedic teachings.

 

The earliest Mahayana sutras were written down about the same time as the Pali Canon (1st century BC) but were very much a minority interest until later when the Mahayana became more popular in the North.

 

The Buddha did want his monks to study - to listen, contemplate and meditate - he wanted them to study the 4 Noble Truth and Dependent origination for instance.

 

Did the Buddha actually utter the Lotus Sutra and so on?   Probably not ... but as you say provided the teachings are correct it doesn't really matter.

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Posted (edited)
On 12/18/2020 at 11:29 AM, TranquilTurmoil said:


Hey Apech. I know Buddha didn't write down his teachings but I thought that was on account of him not wanting his teaching to be merely studied as opposed to practiced... At least that was Thich Nhat Hanh's account of history. If I remember I thought some people wanted Shakyamuni to write down his teachings in Sanskrit. But either way you are correct, I meant I don't personally believe the Mahayana sutras such as the lotus sutra or the Maha PariNirvana sutra were actually spoken by the buddha but I don't think it invalidates the potential truths in those sutras
 


That's a good question, about why the teachings weren't written down during Gautama's time, or at least during the First Council when the texts of the first four sermon collections were established.

I know that the custom was to pass teachings down orally.  I believe one of the early requirements for becoming a member of the order was the memorization of at least one of the volumes of one of the collections.  Also, there were members of the order who had that photographic memory for sound, like Gautama's companion Ananda.

My understanding is that in Sri Lanka, where the teaching was taken by one of King Asoka's sons who had become a monk, there came a time when there appeared to be a danger of some of the volumes being lost.  The decision was made to commit them to writing.  That would have been around the start of the common era, so 0 C.E..  

How strange it must have been, to be a monk and realize that the teaching was now available to everyone, without the need for monks.  Sort of like the first bible printed in the vernacular, and the consequent lack of any need for an intermediary to know "the word of God".

The first four collections in the Pali Suttas are considered to be the most historically accurate account of Gautama's teaching.  I've read the Pali Text Society's editions, and I recommend them--the Pali Text Society finished translating the middle-length collection, the last of the collections in their translations, in 1957.   I think theirs was the first complete translation of that collection.

 

I think it would have been very difficult for anyone to have obtained an overview of Gautama's teaching in the days of the oral tradition, and difficult for anyone to have obtained such an overview after the teachings were written down unless they had all the volumes at hand to refer to and the time to study them.   Not that the teaching itself is that difficult to summarize, but the key bits are scattered around in the collections, and I think they won't make a lot of sense without all of them together and a steady practice of seated meditation.  

It's no wonder that many of the "sermons" of later composition attributed to Gautama were dedicated to approaches other than the study of scriptures, or that the study of scriptures should come to be viewed as inferior to other methods in many traditions.  It's a jungle, in those scriptures!

Nevertheless, there is no other voice in the literature of the world like Gautama's (IMHO).

p.s.  Mahaparinibbanasutta apparently may have some later insertions, but for the most part it's Gautama, and it's a part of the Digha Nikaya Pali Sutta volumes.

Edited by Mark Foote
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Do Mahayana not chant the Pali texts or study them very much? I've noticed that the Pali texts have a very different feel and even the energy from chanting them is very different.

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On 10/28/2021 at 10:44 AM, dmattwads said:

Do Mahayana not chant the Pali texts or study them very much? I've noticed that the Pali texts have a very different feel and even the energy from chanting them is very different.

No, not at all.

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2 hours ago, Creation said:

No, not at all.

 

Do you know why they ignore them? I mean they have copies of the Pali cannon, so why is it largely ignored by the Mahayana? 

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7 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

Do you know why they ignore them? I mean they have copies of the Pali cannon, so why is it largely ignored by the Mahayana? 

Technically it's not the "Pali Cannon" but a slightly different recension, it's very close though.  The name that applies to all such recentions is the "Nikayas", sometimes "Agamas". Two reasons it's largely ignored in Mahayana.  One, they felt the Mahayana teachings superseded the "Hinayana" teachings, two Abhidharma was considered to have extracted the essence of the "Hinayana" teachings, so to the extent that it was still useful to learn something about them, rather than study the whole of the Nikayas, they just studied the Abhidharmakosha.  In Tibet, they went one step further and didn't even really read the Mahayana sutras much, just the Tantras, which they felt superseded the Mahayana sutras.  To learn what the Mahayana sutras taught, they just studied the scholarly compilations and commentaries such as the works of Nagarjuna and Asanga-Maitreya. 

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Mayahana Sutras have a knack for self-promotion - "Whoever makes a copy, or even owns a copy of this sutra, will be blessed by all the Buddhas of the three times, will have a fortunate rebirth, etc.", that kind of thing.  Better PR than the Nikayas :lol:!  Same as the Tantras - if you're going to recite something, well, one single recitation of the Vajrasattva mantra clears incalculable aeons of negative karma!  How can the Mahayana Sutras compete with that? :D

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4 minutes ago, Creation said:

Technically it's not the "Pali Cannon" but a slightly different recension, it's very close though.  The name that applies to all such recentions is the "Nikayas", sometimes "Agamas". Two reasons it's largely ignored in Mahayana.  One, they felt the Mahayana teachings superseded the "Hinayana" teachings, two Abhidharma was considered to have extracted the essence of the "Hinayana" teachings, so to the extent that it was still useful to learn something about them, rather than study the whole of the Nikayas, they just studied the Abhidharmakosha.  In Tibet, they went one step further and didn't even really read the Mahayana sutras much, just the Tantras, which they felt superseded the Mahayana sutras.  To learn what the Mahayana sutras taught, they just studied the scholarly compilations and commentaries such as the works of Nagarjuna and Asanga-Maitreya. 

 

Very interesting. Do you know in what way the Mahayana consider the Hinayana texts to be inferior? Like is there something specific about them that is considered to be "less"?

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4 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

Very interesting. Do you know in what way the Mahayana consider the Hinayana texts to be inferior? Like is there something specific about them that is considered to be "less"?

Not discussing the Bodhisattva path, primarily. 

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1 hour ago, dmattwads said:

 

Very interesting. Do you know in what way the Mahayana consider the Hinayana texts to be inferior? Like is there something specific about them that is considered to be "less"?

The Mahayana teachers I have read seem to either genuinely believe or have rationalized that the Theravada teachings were for an earlier time and/or for practicioners of lesser capacity.... which doesn't make sense to me personally on many levels. A lot of these mahayana teachers seems to genuinely believe/credit the Buddha spoke the Diamond Sutra, the lotus sutra, the surangama sutra... whether or not they think it was the historical Buddha giving these talks to entrusted disciples in his lifetime, or that it was heard in some sort of revelation, or what i'm not entirely sure. Some even believe he never passed into parinirvana i think, and remains with us. As Creation alluded to, I think Mahayana practicioners find the ideal of an arhat incompatible with the bodhisattva ideal. With the attainments of the latest stages of the bodhisattva path being purported to surpass that of an arhat (specifically Great Compassion), and the ideal of saving oneself whilst leaving many others behind being seemingly incompatible with the bodhisattva aspiration, and sectarianism growing stronger as the Mahayana tradition/texts evolved I guess the attitude of labeling the teachings of Original Buddhism as Hinayana took root.

 

Fwiw, Thich Nhat Hanh used to teach some of the suttas, and they would recite it in English at his monasteries on a weekly basis. The ones that come to mind are "The Better Way to Catch a Snake", "The Better Way to Live Alone", The four establishments of mindfulness, and some others. He never seemed to identify what was a Sutta and what was a Sutra, and as far as I remember never referred to the Theravada/Early Buddhism as Hinayana. I have seen him and Master Hsuan Hua make the distinction between the Northern and Southern tradition/transmission instead (which I don't think referred to different lines of Chan/Zen). But the notion of the superiority of the Mahayana or the notion of the Theravada being the pure teachings of the Buddha with the later additions/developments that followed being a corruption seems to be a contentious issue.

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From my research, Buddha did not teach the same to all who gathered before him.

He tailored the message to the level of awareness of the minds of those who were present; so not all lessons were suitable for all audiences.

 

Let the message suit the level of the mind, so that all may gain merit according to their state.

 

Do not teach what is suitable for an adult, to a child, (or a hindered adult).

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On 28/10/2021 at 11:44 PM, dmattwads said:

Do Mahayana not chant the Pali texts or study them very much? I've noticed that the Pali texts have a very different feel and even the energy from chanting them is very different.

Majority don't.

 

There was a period in time where the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) was alternating their morning ceremony with their normal Chinese morning ceremony and that of the Pali tradition / Ajahn Chah's Thai Forest tradition. Master Hua (founder of CTTB) attempted to bridge the divide that was created between the Mahayana and Theravada over the years and donated what was to be the initial plot of land for Abhayagiri monastery to Ajahn Sumedho. Ajahn Sumedho and Master Hua were reportedly fellow monks and Dharma Brothers in a previous life(s). Even today there is still a strong connection and bond between the two traditions, at least between the two aforementioned monasteries. 

 

14 hours ago, dmattwads said:

Do you know why they ignore them? I mean they have copies of the Pali cannon, so why is it largely ignored by the Mahayana? 

 

It's just not emphasized - plus the Tripitika is already big enough hahah.

 

Everything is a chain of cause and effect, and the "causes" or practices and methods found in the Pali Canon lead to the fruits of Arhatship. Most Mahayana practitioners are focused on Bodhisattvahood and Buddhahood, so they try to focus on the practice of the 6 paramitas that is supposed to be the cause that leads to the effect of Bodhisattvahood. When you want to become a doctor you study what doctors do, if you want to become a lawyer, you do the same as lawyers do.

 

Although personally I think these are merely all distinctions as is standard for humans to do in creating a "us" and "them" scenario...

 

Theravada serves as the basis and foundation for Mahayana... For people to attempt to skip the foundation and jump to the higher level teachings almost comes off as slightly arrogant to me.. but of course there are those who have cultivated very well in previous lives and are capable of doing so, but it is generally quite obvious when those people incarnate again as to their capabilities and affinities to the Dharma.

 

The common trope is that the Arhats are 'selfish' and 'self-serving', and the Mahayanas are too attached to the world and form and money (Mahayana temples on average tend to be much flashier and bigger and grandiose than their counterparts aha).

 

Pali Canon teaches one to see through the false sense of self, Mahayana teaches one to see through all dharmas, even the Dharma and notion of "nirvana" itself. The 'true' Middle Way is to go beyond both self and dharmas to that which is non-dual. 

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Ken Wheeler has a youtube channel and he translates ancient greek, latin and pali.  His insights into the nature of citta were particularly beneficial to me.  In addition to his insights into the nature of light.

 

He expreesses incredibly deep insights into physics and natural philosophy.  I highly recomment anyone with an interest in Pali translation or physics to check him out.

 

His channel goes by the handle Theoria Apophasis.

Edited by silent thunder

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3 hours ago, silent thunder said:

Ken Wheeler has a youtube channel and he translates ancient greek, latin and pali.  His insights into the nature of citta were particularly beneficial to me.  In addition to his insights into the nature of light.

 

He expreesses incredibly deep insights into physics and natural philosophy.  I highly recomment anyone with an interest in Pali translation or physics to check him out.

 

His channel goes by the handle Theoria Apophasis.

 

I've seen this channel and he seems to be well educated but he also gives me the impression of thinking that he knows a lot more than anybody else does.

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2 hours ago, dmattwads said:

 

I've seen this channel and he seems to be well educated but he also gives me the impression of thinking that he knows a lot more than anybody else does.

Indeed, he seems to...  his insights on the nature of light are as powerful to me as his translation of the word citta.

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3 hours ago, silent thunder said:

Indeed, he seems to...  his insights on the nature of light are as powerful to me as his translation of the word citta.

I don't find either of these particularly insightful. 

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17 hours ago, dmattwads said:

 

I've seen this channel and he seems to be well educated but he also gives me the impression of thinking that he knows a lot more than anybody else does.

 

He also makes a lot of amateur errors and conclusions given his lack of formal language training. A lot of his assertions have been debunked by scholars with familiarity with the language. I think he is trying to smuggle Platonism into Buddhism, which is fine if you want to do it, but then you miss out on the depth of the emptiness teachings. 

 

Just my opinion. 

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